Navy Yard Shooting Revives Violent Game Debate But Doesn't Threaten Grand Theft Auto Fans

Video game critics face obstacles blaming massacres on violent media.

Gamers get their hands on Call of Duty: Ghosts for the first time at an event in Los Angeles on Aug. 14, 2013. The game’s publisher, Activision Blizzard, supports of a federal bill that would study on the impact of violent video games on children.

Gamers get their hands on Call of Duty: Ghosts for the first time at an event in Los Angeles on Aug. 14, 2013. The game’s publisher, Activision Blizzard, supports of a federal bill that would study on the impact of violent video games on children.

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Following Monday's mass shooting at the Navy Yard, some commentators have revived arguments that violent games contribute to gun massacres. But any proposals for legislative action on video games face significant legal hurdles, not to mention considerable doubt in the scientific community that such a link even exists. That means fans of games such as the recently released Grand Theft Auto 5 – which is expected to sell 20 million units by March - can likely rest easy.

"Fox and Friends" hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Steve Doocy raised the question on Tuesday's program of whether violent video games were a factor in the Navy Yard shooting, as it was reported suspected shooter 34-year-old Aasron Alexis was an avid video game player.

"Unfortunately you know it seems every time something bad like this happens we look at 'is there a connection between video games and the shooter?'" Doocy said, listing seven young, male shooters from past American gun massacres.

[READ: Mental Health Legislation, Not Gun Control, Focus of Congress After Navy Yard Shooting]

His sentiments were echoed by Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Pat Robertson of "The 700 Club" and an attention-grabbing headline on conservative online news aggregator The Drudge Report.

"People are going to discuss it," says Chris Ferguson, a Stetson University psychology professor who has conducted numerous studies on the link between aggressive behavior and violence in video games and television. "But they've done that for every mass shooting involving a young male in the past, whether he's a gamer or not."

Ferguson says whenever a shooter is young, male and, "so much as plays Pac Man" people will raise the issue.

"The cycle is repetitive," he says, adding that each time the calls for action - which range from all-out bans on 'violent' games to support for more research on their potential link to violence - eventually die.

That's despite popular public opinion which says there is a link - a recent Harris Poll found 58 percent of adults believed violent games were linked to violent behavior in teenagers and young adults.

And in the case of the Navy Yard shooting, even some of the most vocal critics of violent video games have tempered their views.

"We need to give the FBI time to complete their profile of the shooter and the investigation into the horrific event that occurred yesterday at the Navy Yard," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a statement. "We've heard some news accounts that the shooter spent time playing violent video games but it is simply too early to know whether this motivated this week's senseless act of violence."

Rockefeller previously introduced the Violent Content Research Act, in the wake of last December's Sandy Hook shooting that claimed the lives of 20 young children, which called for a National Academy of Sciences study on "the impact of violent video games and violent video programming on children."

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, also put forth a similar measure and President Obama signed an executive order calling on for more CDC research in to the connection between violent media and gun violence.

[READ: Why Lawmakers Can’t Do Much About Violence in Entertainment]

However, many experts are quick to point out that numerous other studies have already been done on the matter, including by the National Academy itself, and most have failed to find a conclusive link. Some have also argued the studies that have seemed to do so are misleading. Skeptics point out while video games have gotten more popular in recent decades, violent crime has actually gone down in the United States. Other countries, with similar or higher levels of violent video game playing, also simply have drastically lower levels of gun violence compared to the U.S.

"There are certain individuals out there that this is a culture war issue for them," Ferguson says. "I think it's almost parasitic that they take advantage of these tragedies when the research isn't there."

Efforts to regulate video games in the name of curbing violence face even more obstacles. A 2011 Supreme Court ruling tossed out a California law that banned the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, a ruling that negated numerous other state laws and proposals. Even video game critics like the Parents Television Council acknowledge the ruling limits what legally can be done.